Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant event: SSAT school improvement 2018
Mark Barrett, Deputy Headteacher, Kingsmeadow School, describes the work of their rolling consistency working parties
‘What does the school need to do to improve further? Improve the quality of teaching and the progress made by pupils […] so that it is consistently good.’
Kingsmeadow School Ofsted report, April 2017.
I imagine that this is not an unfamiliar phrase to many of you. The strive for ‘consistently good’ seems to have become an educational mantra for senior leaders. Ofsted demands it, Sutton Trust researches it, MIS systems claim to support it and CPD providers promise it.
At Kingsmeadow School the challenge the headteacher and I, as deputy head faced, of improving the quality of our teaching to ‘consistently good’, was made all the more difficult by the fact that we were both new to the role, the school and the local authority as of September 2017. We were not the experts on what was happening in the school.
So what could we do?
First and foremost, we recognised the good teaching we saw right across the school from our first tentative few days. The staff at Kingsmeadow are as hard-working and dedicated as any group of staff could be. All of them are delivering examples of good teaching and driving good progress every day. Ofsted recognised this and so did we. The issue, though, was consistency: not just examples of good teaching and progress, but consistently good teaching and progress.
Randomised work scrutiny
As deliverers of good practice, our staff know good practice when they see it, and they were the experts on what was happening in the school. We, therefore, harnessed their skills through the use of a rolling ‘consistency working party’. The working party consists of a short-term group of between four and six teachers and teaching assistants (including a senior leader). Over the course of a two-week period every member of this group completes a joint learning walk with the senior leader and, on one of the days, they have a shared working lunch completing a randomised work scrutiny together. All of their notes, comments and ideas are then shared on a team drive and fed back to all staff during the whole-staff briefing. Where individual or departmental feedback is necessary, this is given via the head of department.
Over a two-week period every member of this group has a joint learning walk with the senior leader and, on one of the days, a shared working lunch
This whole process is reasonably easy to set up, for minimum cost and clear rewards.
The dates of the consistency working parties are all calendared and populated with staff names. This means that all staff knew exactly when their slot is in advance. Then, on the first day of each fortnight, every member of the working party is emailed with their allocated slot for their joint learning walk with the member of SLT. Finally, the last Thursday of each fortnight is designated the working lunch for the whole consistency working party to conduct the randomised work scrutiny. Every book which is reviewed in this work scrutiny gets a sticker on the back cover, to say when it was scrutinised and with a red/amber/green colour grade referring to the level of student work and presentation.
Benefits: constructive feedback
This has led to palpable benefits. Every member of staff gets to spend some time individually with a member of SLT talking about teaching and learning. Their thoughts, views and opinions are collated and shared. This has led to a sense of empowerment among our staff – their opinions matter and they can help shape the internal evaluation of the school. From a senior leadership perspective, we are continually getting professional and constructive feedback about our whole-school teaching and learning position from existing good practitioners. The wealth of information we receive really does inform our evaluation and action planning.
Staff opinions matter and they can help shape the internal evaluation of the school
Teachers are monitored in a way which does not create the stressful peaks of pressure that build up around, for example, an SLT work scrutiny of KS4 pupil premium books. They only discover that their books have been monitored when they see the dated and coloured stickers on the backs of student books in their class. An interesting additional benefit from this is that the students also check these stickers, which has led to a similar sense of low-level pressure among the students to keep their books neat and presentable, and always to do the best work they can.
A few tips and pointers we have learnt on the way:
- When putting staff into the calendar, try to include all new staff in the first half-term. They really appreciate seeing the level of work and consistency expected at the earliest opportunity.
- Be mindful of other commitments (for example, moderation weeks) and give staff the opportunity to change their allocated times.
- Give staff members a choice of two or three periods when they can accompany the member of SLT on the learning walk.
- The member of SLT should deliberately plan two or three very different subject areas to take the member of staff to in order to broaden their view, while also leaving plenty of leeway for them to choose particular subjects or year-groups for themselves.
- Provide food during the working lunch. A simple packed-lunch or mini-buffet goes a long way towards making staff feel valued and more willing to give up their time.
- Definitely include teaching assistants. Their wider view of students across a range of subjects is invaluable.
- This work scrutiny system works best when students are in charge of their own books – taking them home with them, keeping them in lockers and carrying them in their bags.
- Challenge each member of the consistency working party to arrive to the work scrutiny lunch with sets of books from three different students (we simply stop students by the lockers and ask them to give us all of the books in their bags or lockers at the start of the lunch break, they then retrieve them at the end of lunch from the work-room).
- Share the leadership of the consistency working party around SLT, not just the teaching and learning lead. Members of SLT benefit just as much as other staff.
Read more in the ‘School improvement stories’ series: Creating the right ethos for teaching and learning improvement